Stickland vs. Pickett ... and the World
Remember when Rep. Molly White, R-Belton, – the one who demanded that all Muslims recant terrorism – looked like a shoo-in for worst legislator this session? Not to be outdone, Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, has been swinging for the fences by actually getting himself kicked out of a committee hearing.
The April 30 meeting of the House Transportation Committee began affably enough with the traditional hazing of freshman Rep. Andrew Murr, R-Kerrville. It also began with Committee Chair Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, laying out the rules for signing up to testify on, for, or against a bill. His instructions concerned making certain that people who were there to speak had actually filled out the right forms. Instead, he had to deal with the reverse: submitted forms featuring names of people who weren't in the building. By sheer coincidence, they all seemed to be in favor of House Bill 142, Stickland's measure banning municipal red-light cameras (apparently because if a cop doesn't see you jumping a red, it didn't happen). Pickett even went so far as to call one supposed witness, who (it turned out) wasn't even in Austin. When Stickland demanded that Pickett prove that his office had something to do with the false sign-ups, Pickett replied, "I'm not having to prove anything, the proof is there. Please leave the committee room or be removed." When Stickland continued to rant from the podium, Pickett instructed the House Sergeant to escort him from the room.
This was actually the second time that day the veteran Pickett and the freshman Stickland had clashed. Earlier, Stickland had attempted to derail Pickett's HB 2346, giving Federal Reserve commissioned law officers the same powers as any other Texas cop. Stickland claimed that it was giving "state law enforcement powers to a private entity." Pickett responded by giving Stickland a large-print version of the bill: To double-down on the condescension, he drew stick figures on the bill, of a Federal Reserve officer (marked "good guy") and a robber (labeled "bad guy").
But while this may seem like Pickett indulging in vendetta, there's far more evidence that Stickland has little concern for or interest in the legislative process. He has taken permanent residence at the back mic in the House chamber to raise spurious points of order on bills he perceives as a threat to "liberty." The pattern has become a running joke among legislators and Lege watchers, with high points including House Appropriations Committee Vice Chair Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, having to explain basic committee responsibilities to Stickland (see "Lege Lines," May 1). This also explains why Pickett, knowing Stickland's demeanor, had his annotated version of the bill ready before the Chamber debate.
Defending himself against his expulsion, Stickland fired back that he and his lawyers had combed over the rules and are "unable to locate anything that commands that a person must be present in the Capitol to register their support or opposition to a bill. In fact, there are rules which suggest exactly the opposite." He better be right: The General Investigating Committee will be examining what happened with the sign-ups. (And if Stickland's position is upheld, expect legions of ghost witnesses to every committee hearing.) While Committee Chair John Kuempel, R-Seguin, said "no individual member is being targeted," expect Stickland and his staff to face some tough questioning.
Rep. Paul Workman, R-Austin, wants to block state incentives for filmmakers and video game developers who aren't making all their productions kid-friendly.
On April 30, Workman presented his HB 1126 to the House Economic & Small Business Development Committee. He said he's a supporter of state incentives – including the Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program – "however," he added, "I do not believe that the state should be subsidizing the production of violent or inappropriate films or video games." Workman's language prevents the Texas Film Commission from using TMIIIP funds for projects that "will probably on completion" receive either an R or NC-17 rating from the Motion Picture Association of America, or an M or A from the Entertainment Software Rating Board. In a moment of fearmongering, Workman raised the specter of a "Columbine-esque" school shooting inspired by a game subsidized by Texas. Instead, he said, the state should only provide incentives for projects that are "wholesome."
Aside from the presumption that gaming leads to violent behavior (a consistently debunked piece of pseudo-science), it's that "probably" provision causing most concern. Workman's bill is predicated on the idea that filmmakers and game producers know what rating their film or game will receive. This is generally a myth, and, for example, the MPAA has historically been far less forgiving toward independent films than studio pictures. So Workman's belief that producers know what rating they will get seems misguided, and could lead to a chilling effect for directors and script writers.
While no one spoke against the bill in the meeting, many groups signed up against it, including representatives of the city of San Antonio, Greenville Board of Development, the MPAA, the Texas Association of Business, and Austin-based Troublemaker Studios. Committee Chair Angie Chen Button, R-Richardson, has left HB 1126 pending in committee.
Another step in fracking deregulation: The Senate has passed HB 40, restricting local regulation of fracking activities, and the bill now heads to Gov. Greg Abbott... In an unspoken statement of priorities, Senators approved SB 228, setting up a two-day tax holiday for guns and ammo. On the other hand, SB 157 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, establishing two tax holidays on college textbook sales, can't even get a committee hearing... Détente or a fresh fight? On April 30, Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, laid out the pre-K funding measures in HB 4 by Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Kingwood (see "The Education Session," May 1). What's weird is that Gov. Abbott has explicitly asked Zaffirini to carry the bill in the Senate. Zaffirini has said that the order to make the switch came directly from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who is increasingly at odds with Abbott.